To Mom and Dad, who aren't going to get copies of this. They aren't old enough to read it yet.
To Memom, who will get a copy, and knowing her, will sneak it to my mother when I'm not looking.
To Anne Cain, who, quite frankly, rocks the covers! (Book covers, you pervs! Sheesh. What the heck would I know about what she does in the privacy of her boudoir?) And to Dusty, who was man enough to sniffle when Christian Slater whispered, “Stay,” and was so touched by the movie that we had Sterling roses in our wedding. Love you, sweetheart.
Baldur looked down at the broken, bleeding body of the man who'd sacrificed himself so that Baldur could live.
Baldur had been furious when Loki ambushed him, binding him and silencing him with a damned Jotun spell. He'd watched, furious, as the fiery-haired man took on Baldur's face and form and strode into the Thing, the sacred space of the gods. He hadn't realized that Loki had been intent on saving him.
"Leave, I beg of you, before Odin returns."
The urgency in Loki's voice and face was nearly drowned out by the pain. The Trickster God coughed, bright red blood spattering onto his already soaked clothing.
Without his help, Loki would die of his wounds, so numerous and grievous that, if he hadn't been who he was, he would have died long before. The sluggish bleeding of the wound in his chest indicated that the other god's extraordinary healing powers were working, but slowly. Oh, so slowly.
The sacrifice Loki had made was something no one, least of all Baldur, would have ever expected a man like him to make. All the disdain, the annoyance at Loki's flippancy, the anger at his seeming betrayals, evaporated under the truth of a sacrifice so great it didn't bear thinking on.
So Baldur did the only thing he could think to do: offer comfort to one who'd sacrificed more than anyone before. He leaned down, pressing a soft kiss to those bruised, bleeding lips, his allegiance solidly and forever given to the man who, days before, he would have sneered at. His heart cracked and bled as even that small gesture caused the man beneath him to hiss in pain. “Have no fear. I will take care of you.
Rest now; you are safe.” Thunder sounded in the distance as he blanketed the man with his own cloak.
Shivering slightly in the wet spring air, he turned away from Loki. “I will go and inform your daughter of what has happened here. I will return as soon as I can."
He ignored the moaning protest of the man beneath the cloak, knowing that he was doing the right thing.
With a quick backwards glance he left the hiding place Loki had created for him. The pit of his stomach told him that the choice he was making might not be the best one, but what other choice was there? He couldn't allow Loki to die!
He strode through the Thing, desperate to save the one man he'd never thought he would bother to.
Loki closed his eyes wearily as Baldur left. He lifted one hand to touch his lips, still reeling from the freely given gesture. He'd seen the look on Baldur's face and knew the grief and rage of betrayal ate at him. The fact that he'd taken the time to comfort a dying man, a man feared, loathed, and reviled throughout the world, touched him as few things could these days.
He'd also seen Baldur's determination to return to him, but he knew Baldur couldn't be found here. With a groaning sigh he lifted himself, dragging himself away before the other man returned.
It was better this way. When the Aesir and Vanir found him, inflicted on him the punishment he was sure was going to come, he didn't want Baldur to see it. He knew better than to hope the other man would come to his rescue, or try to convince the others to let him go. It never worked that way for him, and it never would, no matter how his heart ached. His own actions had seen to it, helped along by Baldur's betrayer.
He staggered out into the night, the cloak wrapped around his body, the scent of the other man soothing to him. He ignored the longing in his heart for what could never be, and braced himself for what was to come.
And in the dark of the night a secret watcher raced to correct an injustice so horrendous the heavens would one day shatter from it, knowing that it was already too late...
Kiran smiled as the soft sound of a footfall behind him alerted him to Logan's presence. After all these years together he still found himself bracing for the sight of his lover's wickedly dark face. In his mind's eye, he could see the sardonic grin that would be gracing those full lips, the amusement gleaming in those dark eyes. The setting sun would light fire to that dark hair, making Kiran's fingers itch to run through it just to feel its hidden heat. Other than the fact that he was male, and a sarcastic son of a bitch at that, he was everything Kiran had once dreamed of.
But even the thought of his lover couldn't shake the anxiety that seemed to be dogging his footsteps today. Time had taught him to trust his instincts, and his instincts were screaming at him time to go!
A pointed chin rested on his shoulder and strong, tanned hands went around his waist. “How did I know I'd find you out here?” Kir grinned, leaning into his lover's touch. “Can't you get enough of the ocean?"
Kir gave in to temptation and reached up, fingering the dark strands that flew in the tradewinds to mingle with his, fire to his ice. “You know how much I love the ocean, Logan."
Logan snorted. “You love everything. "
"Some things more than others."
He shivered hard when Logan pressed a soft kiss to the side of his neck. He felt his cock twitch in interest. If Logan was in the mood to play, he'd be more than happy to accommodate him. After they left.
The smile left his face, his hands dropping from Logan's hair to tangle with the hands at his waist. He blew out a breath, anxiety over the plan Logan had come up with churning in his gut. He didn't know why, but he had the feeling something big was going to happen, something that would change both their lives. Maybe this time we'll get the son of a bitch. Maybe that's what's churning in my gut today.
Still ... “Are you sure about this?"
"Positive. This time I think we can beat him."
Kiran nodded, knowing that when Logan got that tone in his voice it was almost impossible to talk him out of whatever it was he had his mind set to. Better to just go along and guard his stubborn ass whether he liked it or not. But he had a very bad feeling about the whole thing, and it was making him nervous, tangling with the anxiety to move beating beneath his skin. “We need to take every precaution."
"Dot our i's. Cross our t's."
"Leave no stone unturned."
"Pursue every lead."
He felt Logan's sigh against his hair. “We have an appointment we don't want to miss, remember? Or should we just chuck it all and you can go work for Hallmark?"
He waited until he heard Logan growl.
"Hey, I'm thinking about it.” When Logan chuckled he was absurdly pleased.
He yelped when Logan smacked him on the ass. “Let's go, princess, or we'll be late."
Kir rubbed his ass and turned with a frown. Logan's laughing face zoomed in close as his lover planted a quick kiss on his lips.
"Last night you were on the bottom. Doesn't that make you the princess?"
Logan looked over his shoulder at Kir as he led the way back to their beachfront house. “Hell, no, blondie. You're way too pretty to be anything but the princess. Besides, you're the one the evil queen wants dead, remember?"
Kir snickered at the thought of the dour Oliver Grimm as a “queen". He'd pay big bucks to see Daddy Dearest in drag. “What does that make you? My loyal woods man?"
Logan turned with a groan, walking backwards towards the house. “That one was bad, Kir. Just damn awful.” He turned, reached for the front doorknob, and inserted the key into the lock.
Kir was never quite sure afterwards what alerted him, but he grabbed Logan in his arms and turned him just as the house exploded around them in a huge ball of fire. They were tossed into the air like rag-dolls, burning bits and pieces of their beach hideaway raining down on them as they landed.
"God damn it, Kir! Don't do that!” Logan struggled out of his arms and to his feet. He glared at him, his face smudged with dirt and smoke, bits and pieces of their house sticking to his burnt clothes. A cut on his cheek healed as Kir watched. “You could have been killed! How do you know he didn't have the place littered with mistletoe toothpicks?"
Kir got to his feet with a sigh. “You're welcome."
Logan's eyes narrowed, flames dancing in their depths, letting him know just how much he'd managed to piss him off. “Don't put yourself between me and anything, Kir. We're too close to winning to die now."
"Fire can't hurt me, damn it!"
Kir picked up the six-foot piece of wood that had bounced off his broad back. “But this would have."
Logan's eyes widened. “Fuck. Yeah, okay, that would have pinched a bit."
"We need to get out of here.” Always trust your instincts. Damn it, I knew something was off today!
Kiran looked around, knowing that their car was probably totaled along with all the rest of the possessions they'd had in their home.
"Done.” Logan shifted, changing into a sleek black Corvette, a trick he'd learned from visiting a pooka several years ago.
Kiran smiled as he climbed into the “car". “Damn. I like your style."
Another one of Logan's amused snorts sounded from the speakers. “I know.” He roared off into the night, eager to put distance between them and any of Grimm's nearby assassins.
If Val Grimm wanted them dead, he'd had plenty of opportunities to kill them while they chatted on the beach. What the hell is he up to, and why didn't he just take us out? But he knew the answer to that already. Centuries’ worth of fighting with the Grimms had given it to him.
Old man Grimm wanted them dead. Val wanted to play with them first.
Logan drove like a bat out of hell towards the water, letting Kir know he was still pissed at him. But Logan had given up way too much for him already. There was no way Kir would allow him to give up his life, as well.
If that meant Kir's death, then so be it. After all, as far as most of the world was concerned, he was already dead.
Logan was supremely pissed. A fucking island in the middle of fucking nowhere, and Grimm had still managed to find them and plant that damn bomb. He was so sick and tired of running and hiding that there were times he just wanted to give up, to let Grimm have him and to hell with what would happen next.
But that would mean giving up the one thing that brought his life any joy: Kiran. Old Grimm would kill Kir without a second's hesitation. He'd already proven what he was willing to do to them, child and adopted brother notwithstanding.
He made it to the edge of the water before shifting, at speed, into a small boat, carrying Kir far away from the beings who sought their deaths. He would die a thousand times over to prevent Grimm from laying one finger on Kir's pale blond hair. He would tie himself to the earth once again before he saw Kir's eyes closed in death. He would gladly suffer the acidic poison constantly dripping, driving him insane, before he would allow Kir to suffer a moment's more pain than he already had.
He would have done the same for his children if Grimm hadn't murdered them. As it was he dared not approach his living children for fear of bringing Grimm's wrath down on their heads even more.
Mentally he tried to shake off the rage still consuming him, but it wasn't easy. Kir's hand caressing the steering wheel helped. His lover knew him so well, knowing instinctively what to do to ease him.
All of it, the deaths of Kir's wife, Logan's children, the failure of his marriage and his status as a fugitive could all be laid at one manipulative bastard's door: Oliver Grimm.
And this time, the son of a bitch was going to pay for what he'd done.
Val Grimm walked into his father's high rise office with no expression on his face. He knew better than to show his father any sign of weakness. “They're in the city, sir."
Oliver Grimm looked at his youngest child out of chilly blue eyes. “I want them dead this time. No mistakes, Val."
"Yes, sir.” Val took a breath, not happy to deliver the next bit of news to his father. “I believe they intend to contact—"
"I don't give a fuck who they contact. Get them out of my hair once and for all, understand?"
Val nodded his acquiescence, ignoring the unspoken threat. When his father got that dead tone in his voice, he knew better than to argue. Grimm had no further desire to hear anything from his failure of a youngest son until the deed had been done. He left, brows furrowed, the pounding headache lurking behind his eyes telling him exactly how shitty this day was going to be. But at least all of the players were in place, finally.
Maneuvering things so that all of them were together at the same time in the same city was a bitch and a half. Half the time they weren't paying attention, and the other half? They were off chasing their dicks. But now, all but one player was on the field, and he would be arriving soon, home from, of all things, vacation.
He shut the door to his corner office and sat in his leather chair with a sigh. He stared at the twenty or so emails waiting for his attention and grimaced. He clicked open the first one and dealt with the routine security problem someone else should have handled before it got to him.
He lifted his mug to his lips, frowning as the lukewarm coffee slipped down his throat.
Yup. Shitty day, all right. Sometimes living mortal is a real pain in the ass.
Grimm watched as his youngest child left his office.
What a disappointment he's turned out to be.
He'd given the boy a simple enough task. Kill Baldur and Loki. It shouldn't have taken centuries, but somehow time had slipped away from them, and the two banes of his existence were still running around attempting to wreak havoc.
Baldur required nothing more than to be pierced through the heart with something crafted of mistletoe.
Loki, admittedly, was more difficult, with his ability to heal much faster than expected, his shapeshifting abilities, and most of all, his daughter, Hel.
But you'd think, after a millennium, Vali would have gotten it right. The boy's penchant for toying with his intended victims was becoming more and more of a liability.
Grimm sighed and stroked the stone heads of the paired ravens sitting on his desk. Now that all of the players were in place, it was possible he would be able to take both his prodigal son and bastard blood brother out in one fell swoop, ending forever their threat to his rule of the Aesir.
All it would take would be a judicious use of his special weapon, a little trickery, and a lot of fast-talking.
All of which he had in spades. He smiled grimly at the cases of weapons lining one wall of his office, part of his “collection” of antiquities. He got up, opened the case closest to the desk, and pulled out the long spear. It was perfectly preserved, the shaft solid and warm in his grasp, the head sharp and deadly. With a simple thought the spear lit up, flaring brightly.